The Corner

Politics & Policy

When Is an Order Not an Order?

One reason the hearing is not causing existing partisan lines about Trump and Comey to move is that accepting Comey’s testimony as accurate with respect to the words Trump said still leaves room for interpretation. Comey says he took Trump’s remarks about Flynn to amount to a presidential order to drop the investigation. Donald Trump Jr. is among those disputing that interpretation.

But there’s an additional wrinkle here, I think, which is that Comey may not truly have taken it as an order. Comey concedes that Trump could lawfully have given the order to drop the investigation, and he is not saying that he decided to be insubordinate. Perhaps what Comey meant in today’s testimony was something like the following: “I took what Trump was saying to mean that he wanted to get me to drop the investigation without explicitly ordering me to drop it. Since he didn’t give me an explicit order, I felt free, disturbed though I was about the whole exchange, to brush him off.”

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.